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Pulse of the CITY

By D Magazine |

Activist sues to reveal data on teacher performance

“Rabble-rouser” wants to post Dallas and Highland Park students’ test scores on the Internet.

Russell Hamilton Fish III, 47, is a whippet-thin adrenaline junkie who runs 25 miles a week, says he once held a record for the most parachute freefalls in 24 hours (255), holds patents on a handful of micro-processing devices, and, like Zelig, has an amazing capacity to be at me center of high-profile controversies.

In the mid-’80s. Fish was running an electronics plant in California when he popped up in the national news offering $10,000 to whoever found the killer of a hostage during an airplane hijacking. In 1988. Fish was charged with assault after taping the arrest of a Hispanic man by California police officers. (He was acquitted.) After the Rodney King incident, Fish went on CNN and called for “tar-and-feathering” the L.A. police chief.

Fish’s latest crusade-the Internet Open Records Project-could radically change DISD, indeed, the entire public education system. Trustees and teacher unions see the Austin native as a rabble-rouser and trouble-maker, descriptions Fish relishes.

After using the Texas Open Records Act to force DISD to divulge financial data, his “geek garrison,” headed by SMU student Kendal Clark, posted me informalion on the Internet. Fish now wants to post DISD’s classroom performance data. “As soon as we have this stuff, we’re going to be in Austin in front of the legislature,” Fish says. “It’s quite a bit larger than DISD.”

With a master’s in electrical engineering and a peripatetic career in the microprocessor industry, Fish has always had a crusading nature. He got interested in education after setting up a factory; most employees were poor African-Americans who never graduated from high school.

After making a small fortune in Silicon Valley as co-inventor of a microprocessor later christened the first Java chip. Fish began teaching poor black children at an Afro-centric private school in California and then set up an educational trust.

Fish has been a “full-time social activist, do-gooder” since 1991; he moved back to Austin in ’94. His passion for social activism goes back to his teens, watching his father, the publisher of the now-defunct Austin Citizen, fight the South Texas Nuclear Plant.

After his computer analysis showed “the migration of incompetent teachers to minority schools,” Fish says, he filed suit against the Austin ISD to compel it to release students’ achievement test scores. “Austin’s response was to quit testing.”

Three years ago, Fish moved to a cheap apartment in North Dallas to be near his 9-year-old son. He began tutoring minority children and quickly landed in controversy for spanking a student. (The assault charge was dismissed.)

As controversy engulfed DISD, Fish, of course, ended up in the middle of it. He became a plaintiff, along with the NAACP and LULAC, in a lawsuit against the district. In another suit, Federal Judge Barefoot Sanders ruled DISD must release student test scores; the district is fighting the ruling. “They’re going to say it’s technically impossible,” Fish says. “We’re going to come in with mainframe experts and show them it is [possible]- If they don’t release it, I’m pushing for them to throw [superintendent] Dr. Hughey and [board president] Hollis Brashear in jail.”

Fish and his gang of “geeks” are also planning to post financial data from Highland Park ISD. “The people who will fight this are the educators,” Fish says, “the ones that don’t want people to know what a sorry job they are doing.”

HEARD ON THE STREET…

Trying to gel info about A.H- Belo stock on the Internet? Typing in “” gets a mysterious notice: “HTTP/1.0 403 Access Forbidden (Read Access Denied -This Virtual Directory does not allow objects to be read.)” A company spokeswoman told us that ahbelo.com was an “intranet” site, available only to those inside Belo. “Go to and click on Belo at the bottom of the first page,” she suggested. We did and got a yellow street sign, with the message “Not A Through Street” and the word “Sorry

Press release of the month: Southwest Properties Group Inc., letting us know it was hosting a ribbon-cutting ceremony and “historic plague dedication” at the Santa Fe Terminal Urban Lofts downtown. Bubonic? Locusts? Didn’t say.

John Hare, head of WBAP Radio, was named presi dent of ABC Radio. He will be staying in Dallas.

This month, Dallas author Carl ton Stowers is up for an Edgar Award, given by the Mystery Writers of America, for best fact-crime book of 1998; To the Last Breath (St. Martin’s Press) will be released in paperback in April.

Speaking of Stowers: He wrote “Horror Story,” a sad tale of twisted love and AIDS between an heiress and a rich polo player for the April issue of Polo magazine, which has moved from Dallas to Houston. But ours arrived with a line drawn through a photo of the woman and a pasted-on note: “At press time, our sources identified this photograph as Mimi Lambert. We have since found out that this is not a photograph of Mimi Lambert.” Yes. but who is she? “As far as we know, it’s some Danish girl,” says editor Donna Tennet, who says the photographer made a mistake.

Tomima Edmark, multi-bucks inventor of the Topsy Tail and a columnist for Entrepreneur magazine, is now a regular on Good Morning Texas, doing segments every other week showing the progress of new products from prototype to market.

Edmark ended up in Dr. Laura’s sights early this year after appearing in Marie Claire, saying that one luxury she loved about wealth was her three-nanny system, which provides round-the-clock child care for her two daughters. “Dr. Laura said I have enough money and I should stay at home with my children,” she says. Steamed, Edmark demanded on-air time; Dr. Laura refused but said she could fax a rebuttal. Edmark let it drop but is still mad. “She was bashing working mothers,” Edmark says. “She’s such a hypocrite.

Alan Kabel and U-Turn, morning DJs on KDMX-FM 102.9, thought they’d scored a coup by getting Darlie Routier to go on their show live via phone from Death Row on Feb. 8 to discuss a new book about her murder conviction. But at 7 a.m., Routier still hadn’t made that collect call. Seems her lawyer got to her first.

It’s hard to see how Routier was a good subject for Kabel and U-Turn, whose show is usually one big yuk-fest. But Kab-sl says they want to be real. “I grew up on the street, and U-Turn will talk about her eating disorder,” Kabel says. “We try to get people to feel something.”

Investigative reporter Valeri Williams has returned to Channel 8. Williams, who worked at WFAA from 1992 through 1996, left ABC News’ Atlanta bureau in September. “The network was a good experience, but my quality of life wasn’t the same,” says Williams. “I was on the road constantly.” Two hours after reporting for duty in February, she drew possibly the most disgusting story of the year: a field of dead and dying emus. “It was a fowl job, but somebody had to do it,” she says.

MONEY SHOULD BE FUN

Dressing well for April showers.

It’s not a trench coat, imbecile. Hermes-the French house of fashion that brought us $5,000 Kelly bags and $1,500 riding boots-calls the season’s ne plus ultra of raincoats the Voile Impermeable (translation: “impervious fabric”). So it’s not really the classic shape or the hand-finished seams or even the horn buttons that account for the price ($1,755). As Martha Fordyce, managing director of the Hermes boutique in Highland Park Village, explains, “It’s not the fabric itself that makes the coat waterproof but the way it’s woven-it’s lightweight; a woman could roll it up and throw it into her suitcase. It doesn’t wrinkle.” The impervious fabric is also known as…polyester.-Kimberly Goad

Designer’s Last Hurrah

Todd Oldham’s final sample sale.

tion-Todd’s Granny was there, as were his mother and his sister, and his dogs. The regulars grabbed discounted leftovers form the latest line and jammed the makeshift dressing rooms.

This time, the racks had at least a piece from every Oldham line, from Congo Vid to last year’s couture. The best stuff: single pieces made as New York runway samples-a mauve fake fur coat ($169), a silk block shirt ($2), a metallic acid-green Beau Brummels coat ($69). Oldham says the leftovers will go to a women’s shelter. Nothing like a beaded miniskirt to lift a girl’s spirits, tion-Todd’s Granny was there, as were his mother and his sister, and his dogs. The regulars grabbed discounted leftovers form the latest line and jammed the makeshift dressing rooms.

This time, the racks had at least a piece from every Oldham line, from Congo Vid to last year’s couture. The best stuff: single pieces made as New York runway samples-a mauve fake fur coat ($169), a silk block shirt ($2), a metallic acid-green Beau Brummels coat ($69). Oldham says the leftovers will go to a women’s shelter. Nothing like a beaded miniskirt to lift a girl’s spirits, Be afraid, be very afraid

Litigators descend on Dallas

Hordes of trial lawyers will be swarming around the Wyndham Anatole Hotel and other posh spots from April 14-17. In town for an American Bar Association Section of Litigation meeting, the attorneys will undoubtedly consume mass quantities of booze and fine food, and woe to hapless suppliers not up to snuff.

Open to the public, the event costs $650 for non-members of the ABA (or a one-day fee of $375). While many of the panels (“How to Prosecute and Defend a National Class Action”) sound like snooz-ers for anyone who prefers Spin City to Law & Order, one seminar caught our eye: lawyers-turned-writers Scott Turow (Presumed Innocent) and Richard North Patterson (No Safe Place) will discuss how books and film shape public perceptions of trial attorneys. This will probably be mobbed by lawyers weary of the drudgery of making $350 an hour, anxious to chuck it all to finish those novels on their laptops. Yeah, right…

Legendary gambler inducted into Hall of Fame If it hadn’t been for that pesky IRS…

Lester “Benny” Binion had little interest in plodding behind a mule, so he soon abandoned the Grayson County farm where he was bom in 1904 in favor of the action in Dallas, 70 miles away. Before long, he was running one of the richest games of five-card stud in the country at the old Southland Hotel. Room 226 was known as the place where high-rollers could concentrate on their hole cards as sheriff’s deputies milled around to ensure “law and order.”

When local gambling kingpin Warren Diamond died in 1933, Binion took over the numbers racket. Binion ruled his empire with an iron fist; people who cheated him or tried to muscle in had a habit of disappearing. Brought to task twice for local killings, he escaped both times with a slap on the wrist. In 1946, when reform candidate Will Wilson was elected District Attorney, Binion, with his wife, five children, and chauffeur, fled to Las Vegas.

In 1951 he opened Binion’s Horseshoe, where he innovated the enticing tactic of free booze and munchies for the players. Meanwhile, the spoilsports back in Dallas took a cue from the feds’ success in corralling Al Capone and interrupted Benny’s party by extraditing him for tax evasion and sticking him with a four-year stretch in Leavenworth.

Binion returned to Vegas in 1957 and set about making the Horseshoe bigger and bolder than ever. On Feb. 3, 1999, Billion, along with the likes of Howard Hughes and Frank Sinatra, was inducted into the gambling mecca’s Casino Legends Hall of Fame.-Tom Peeler